MOSCOW National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden left the transit zone of a Moscow airport and officially entered Russia after authorities granted him asylum for a year, his lawyer said Thursday, a move that suggests the Kremlin isn't shying away from further conflict with the United States.
Snowden's whereabouts will be kept a secret for security reasons, lawyer Anatoly Kucherena said, making it even harder to keep track of the former NSA systems analyst, who has been largely hiding out at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport since his arrival from Hong Kong on June 23.
The U.S. has demanded that Russia send Snowden home to face prosecution for espionage over his leaks that revealed wide U.S. Internet surveillance practices, but Russian President Vladimir Putin dismissed the request. In a statement released by WikiLeaks, Snowden thanked Russia and lashed out at the Obama administration.
"Over the past eight weeks we have seen the Obama administration show no respect for international or domestic law, but in the end the law is winning," he said. "I thank the Russian Federation for granting me asylum in accordance with its laws and international obligations."
The move already appears to have further strained tense U.S.-Russian relations amid differences over Syria, U.S. criticism of Russia's human rights record and other disputes. Putin has said his asylum was contingent on him not hurting U.S. interests, but the Kremlin could have interpreted that to exclude documents he had already leaked to newspapers that continue to trickle out.
The White House insisted Snowden isn't a whistleblower or dissident, saying the move to grant him asylum undermines Russia's record of cooperation with the U.S. Spokesman Jay Carney said that the White House is re-evaluating whether a planned fall summit with President Barack Obama and Putin should still go ahead.
In his application for asylum, Snowden said he feared he could face torture or capital punishment if he is returned to the U.S., though the U.S. has promised Russia that is not the case. The U.S. has revoked his passport, and the logistics of him reaching other countries that have offered him asylum, including Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia, are complicated.